Archive for January, 2009


My sad little pain d'epice

My sad little pain d'epice

AKA My baking suckage part two

This is my second TWD post – the first was the French Pear Tart a few weeks ago. Yesterday I was reminded, yet again, why I don’t bake.  It’s too much damn work. Chop the chocolate, melt the chocolate, chop more chocolate, melt more chocolate, chop the ginger, stand on one leg with your eyes closed, touch your nose, do a little dance. 

Gingerbread is a QUICK BREAD. Quick = easy in my book. Yet once again, every single bowl, utensil, and cooking aparatus in my kitchen got used. This really defeats the purpose of it being a Quick bread, no?

Ok, I admit I didn’t read the recipe before I began. I merely glanced at it to see if I had the proper ingredients on hand (the verdict was yes, save for the buttermilk which I whipped up quickly).  In my rush, I also somehow missed the first step of mixing the dry ingrediants together separately – but figured it out farther down the line. An easy save.

After creaming the butter and sugars, you are supposed to add the eggs one at a time. There is a note that says “it might look curdled”. Well, mine didn’t look curdled at that point, but it sure did after I added the molasses. That would be the step where it says “beat until smooth”. Yeah…five minutes later…still curdled. Whatever, I moved on and it came together after the dry ingredients were added.

The batter itself was quite good. I really liked the flavor – licking the spatula and bowl dry. The finished cake was alright. Not great, not bad. Maybe a bit dry (perhaps I mixed it too long?? Don’t know for sure) and to be honest, a tad heavy.  My “icing” also turned out to be a glaze rather than an icing. Perhaps that’s cause I didn’t sift in the confectioners sugar (I was quite sick of getting utensils dirty by that point and said screw it).

Anyway. I’m two for two in the baking department for TWD. I’m guessing it won’t be long and I’ll get the boot. 🙂 I think I’m single-handedly lowering the quality of baked goods of the group.

 Finally, I swear I’ve made another gingerbread in the past that required three different types of ginger (ground, fresh and crystalized) and I liked it quite a bit better (I think I’ll have to go find that recipe to save face…).

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still fabulous eats even when the wind chill drops to -8.

Creme Fraiche Ice Cream: still fabulous eats even when the wind chill drops to -8.

So yeah, this blog is supposed to be about being frugal: using things up, saving money, etc. etc. So I suppose you are wondering, “why is it that time after time this woman is showing us recipes with expensive ingredients – I mean creme fraiche for godssake?” Really, I had good intentions of sharing my experiences using up the odd ingredients laying around my kitchen. But somehow, last night’s pizza debacle – which started off with good intentions of using up a  pound of lamb sausage and half a bag of frozen spinach –  did not make for good eats (oy – definitely not), let alone good reads. So today, on a frigid day in January, I’m sharing something a little more fun –  Creme Fraiche ice cream.

Creamy and tart and absolutely wonderful; this lemony ice cream is out of this world. Its fruity tang is perfect for summer. Which is exactly when I made it… And it’s been sitting in a non-descript tupperware buried in my freezer for months. Trust me, this speaks much more about my forgetful nature than it does of the quality of the ice cream. I brought it out of its hibernation last night.  Swoon! My beloved ice cream, how could I have forgotten you?! Quite simply, this ice cream is potentially one of the best desserts I’ve ever made.  You should make it too.

The Best Ice Cream Ever

Creme Fraiche Ice Cream from Patrick O’Connell’s Refined American Cuisine (the second recipe I’ve featured from that book – the other one is the Aged Gouda Mac and Cheese).

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Pork fried in pork fat - what could be better?  

Pork fried in pork fat - what could be better?

 Carnitas means “little meats” in Spanish. Many people think of the dish as Mexican Pulled Pork – which works for me.  But it goes just a little farther than pulled pork by cooking the meat in its own fat as the last step. 

I served my little meats with a pineapple salsa – cause I happened to have a fresh pineapple on hand. Corn tortillas are preferred over flour (but for my husband, I was nice and let him have a few flour tortillas). Traditional toppings are minced onion and cilantro, a squeeze of lime, Cotija cheese (queso fresco would work too) and maybe some Mexican crema (sour cream).


Pork Carnitas

Adapted from egullet.org



  • About 2 lbs pork shoulder, cut into 1-2 “cubes. Don’t trim the fat – you’ll need it for the frying part. You can also use boneless pork country ribs (which is the same cut – but the meat is cut into strips).
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 4 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tsp chile powder (you can use chili powder, or an individual kind of chile powder – I had a few dried anchos laying around that I ground up and used).
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp oregano (preferably Mexican)

Cooking liquid

  • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1 1/2 T brown sugar
  • Enough chicken stock to cover meat in cooking vessel (approx 3 cups)


Combine all ingredients for marinade. Cover and let sit a few hours (or overnight) in fridge.

When ready to cook, empty contents of pork marinade mixture into Dutch oven. Add cooking liquid (lime juice, orange juice, tequila, brown sugar and enough chicken stock to cover meat – approximately 3 cups depending on size of your Dutch oven).

Allow to simmer partially covered on stove top until liquid is gone, and fat is rendering from meat. Keep an eye on it and either cover, or uncover, or partially cover Dutch oven, and turn heat up and down as required to keep the liquid evaporating nicely, but not so quickly that it’s all gone before the meat is properly cooked and tender. Cooking time should be approximately 2 1/2 hours. 

When the liquid is gone, and the fat is rendering from the meat, turn up heat and fry the pork cubes in their own fat. You may need to add additional fat to the pan to ensure proper browning.


Place cooked meat onto a baking sheet. Place sheet under broiler on high for 6-10 minutes or until meat is brown and crispy. Be sure to stir from time to time to prevent burning. 

Serve with your favorite accompaniments: tortillas, salsa, onions and cilantro, sour cream, queso fresco, whatever you’ve got!


Pineapple Salsa

Pineapple Salsa


Pineapple salsa


  • Pineapple – diced
  • Red onion – diced
  • Cilantro – chopped
  • Jalepeno pepper – diced (or if you are lazy, red pepper flakes – that’s what I tend to use)
  • Fresh lime juice
  • Salt to taste


Um, combine? Sorry to be vague – I have really no idea how I make salsa. I just chop up some ingredients in the proportion that looks good to me and stick it in a bowl.  So basically, it’s mostly pineapple with a little bit of onion and cilantro. Could add some garlic if you so desire. Add some pepper flakes (I always have those on hand. A fresh pepper is preferred, but…I won’t tell). Finish with juice of one lime and a little salt. 


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Great Lebanese at home! 


Great Lebanese at home!

My neighborhood is known for two things: 1. the home of notorious, soon to be ex-governor Rod Blagojevich and 2. being one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the nation (according to Barrons magazine).  Since I don’t care much about number one, let’s focus on number two. Thanks to our diversity, we’ve got tons of great ethnic restaurants. One of which has the best Chicken Shawarma ever. Since I don’t get to go there often (since my husband doesn’t share the love), I thought I’d give it a whirl at home. I scoured the web for recipes.  Lebanese? Persian?  Greek? I had no idea what I was looking for, but I did know that most of the recipes I came across seemed flatout wrong (curry powder??). Then I came across this one that seemed promising. I made a few tweaks – broiling the chicken instead of boiling it and not marinating it nearly as long as recommended since I didn’t want the meat to turn mushy – and it turned out pretty fantastic if I do say so myself. Next time, I might try with an olive oil marinade instead of the yogurt. I served it on Naan with some Sabre Hummus (tahini garlic sauce would also be a great choice, but hummus was on-hand), tomato and cucumber. Fabulous!

Chicken Shawarma

Adapted from About.com


  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts (thinly cut)
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • juice from 1 lemon


Combine all ingredients except for chicken to make marinade.  Add chicken, cover and refrigerate at least an hour, preferably more (maybe overnight).  

When ready to bake, turn oven broiler to HI (or use your grill). Remove chicken from marinade and let drain in colander to remove excess.

Arrange chicken on a baking sheet. Broil 6-10 minutes or until chicken is done and looks brown and crispy in parts.

Serve with naan, pita, lavash, whatever you’ve got. Hummus or a garlic tahini sauce would make a nice addition. Add some veg – tomatoes, cucumber, a little thinly sliced onion. Perhaps a sprinkle of ground sumac if you’ve got it. 


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French Pear Tart

Tastes good, but not what the tart is supposed to look like.

Ms Pantry Raid obviously does NOT know how to follow directions! FAIL!



Scurvy Girl

Years ago, at my first job out of college, I worked with a girl whose idea of idea of eating a balanced meal was to finish the fries that came with her extra value meal. “Do you ever eat fruit?” she was asked. “No” was the response.

“Ever?” we inquired.

“No, never”.

She then became known around the office as Scurvy Girl. We all laughed, thought she was ridiculous and of course, probably looked down on her being the snobs that we were.

Fast forward to today. My husband eats an apple, an orange and a banana every day. EVERY day. I looked at my own eating habits and realized I have become SCURVY GIRL. Veg? No problem. But fruit is sorely lacking from my diet. Not that I don’t like it, I just don’t think to eat it. So in an effort to add in fruit, I decided to eat at least one piece of fruit a day. Most recently, it’s been pears. In the scheme of all things healthy, it probably isn’t the best, but it’s my fruit of choice for right now.

My love of pears and TWD

So I chose the French Pear Tart as my very first post for Tuesdays With Dorie. Not that I think that counts for my daily serving of fruit, but I’m  all about pears right now.

I was soon to be reminded why I am not a baker

I signed up for TWD cause I wanted to become a better baker. I forgot, of course, that baking does NOT fit my personality in the slightest. It is picky, exact, frustrating. You always need an ingredient you don’t have, or a pan you don’t own. The steps are unforgiving. When I’m done, the kitchen looks like a tornado hit it. This is why I’m a cook – I can do whatever I please and it turns out ok or at the very least, I can fix it. So yeah, my first baking challenge was just that – a challenge.

  Things that went wrong:

1. Ok, I had an 11 inch tart pan, not a 9 inch. Too late to do anything about it, so had to use it anyway. When making the tart crust, I didn’t let it come together enough in the food processor (was scared to over process) and then had to push it together rather forcefully when putting in the tart pan. This probably had a detrimental effect on the crust – and to be honest, I found it to be quite dry (not to mention overcooked) when all was said and done.

2. When mixing the butter and sugar for the almond cream part, mine never got smooth and satiny. Just kept whizzing around the food processor in a ball. So I said the hell with it and moved on – in retrospect, probably too soon because in the end, the cream was a bit grainy.

3. Ok, next up – slicing the actual pears. I did NOT understand how I was supposed to slice them according to the directions. When they are “fanned out” and placed in the pan, the narrow side was supposed to face a certain way. I was thinking that the pears were supposed to be layered on top of one another all the way AROUND the tart – not just in 6 spokes (yes, I understand that is what the directions say, but I’ve never ever seen this and obviously didn’t get it. Perhaps a picture to assist the baking noobs?). And why in the eff would you create a tart where not every piece gets some of the pears? I mean, really?? What’s the point, other than aesthetics? I’m venting here. Bear with me. So anyway, add that to the list of “things that went wrong”.


Oy. Why am I doing this again?? I swore up and down the kitchen all afternoon. Almost kicked the cat out of frustration (sorry, Sherman – I said ALMOST. You know I love you).

My verdict? My crust turned out extremely dry and of course, since I used a bigger pan, there wasn’t enough almond cream on each bite so you REALLY noticed how dry it was. The flavor of the pears was good, but I think I’d use a different cream recipe next time. Maybe a different crust too…  .

And this, my friends, is why I’m a cook, not a baker

Did I happen to mention I have trouble following directions? Um, yeah…

Here’s hoping that my next baking escapade turns out better. I need a drink. 🙂

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Sage Butter Mac and Cheese

Sage Butter Mac and Cheese

The easiest mac and cheese ever

What? Mac and cheese again? Oh, don’t be so shocked. You obviously have no idea how much a covet macaroni and cheese. So when I saw this recipe on Food Network recently, flirting at me with it’s cheesy gooeyness, I knew I had to make it. Aida foregoes the typical béchamel – instead, the creaminess comes from mascarpone cheese and pasta water (and it’s a real time saver). The most taxing part of this recipe is the grating of the cheese – which is a breeze in my Cuisinart. The crunchy topping takes it to a higher level. Make sure to use top notch cheese, salt enough and use at least the recommended amount of sage (I undercut it a little cause my sage plant is not doing well). I halved the recipe and used a 9×9 dish – I am assuming you would need a larger one if you make the full recipe. Additionally, I went by the weights of the cheeses in this recipe, not cups.

Sage Butter Macaroni and Four Cheese
From Food Network

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for baking dish
4 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 4 cups)
1/4 cup unseasoned dry bread crumbs
1 pound macaroni
3 tablespoons thinly sliced sage
6 ounces shredded Gruyere cheese
4 ounces shredded aged Cheddar
4 ounces mascarpone cheese
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to broil and arrange rack in top. Butter a 9 by 9-inch baking dish and set aside. Melt 1 tablespoon of the remaining butter and mix in a medium bowl with 1 cup of the Parmigiano and all the bread crumbs until thoroughly moistened; set aside.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for half the time indicated on package.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. When it starts to foam, add sage and cook until crisp and butter begins to turn golden brown. Remove from heat and set aside until pasta is ready. Reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta.

Return pasta to pot and place over low heat. Stir in sage butter, reserved pasta water, remaining 3 cups Parmigiano, Gruyere, Cheddar, mascarpone, and salt, and season with freshly ground black pepper. Stir constantly until cheeses are evenly melted and the pasta looks well coated. Turn pasta into baking dish and evenly top with bread crumb mixture. Place under broiler until mixture bubbles and top is browned, about 1 to 2 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving.

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potatogalette2Does this girl ever eat healthy?

It’s all about portion control, right?

Once again, this recipe is actually about being frugal – I had some potatoes that were starting to get wrinkly and needed to be used asap. I’ve always wanted to make a galette, so thought this would be a perfect opportunity and found a recipe that would also use up the gruyere in my fridge.

My only qualm with this recipe is that the potatoes – where they didn’t have cheese on top – were so sad and soggy looking. Maybe it needed to be baked longer. Maybe it’s because I used baking potatoes instead of Yukon Gold. Other than the visual appearance of the potatoes, the taste was great. My husband kept raving about it and pretty much finished it off (but you know, how can you go wrong with potatoes and cheese?).

Yukon Gold Gruyère Galette

From Fine Cooking


1/4 cup finely chopped shallots (from about 2 large shallots)
3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil; plus 1/2 tsp. for the pan (or use olive-oil spray for the pan)
1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes (about 2 large or 3 medium), unpeeled and scrubbed
1 heaping tsp. very lightly chopped fresh thyme
Kosher salt
1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about a 1-1/2-oz. piece, grated on a box grater’s small holes)
1 cup finely grated Gruyère (about 3-1/2 oz.)


Combine the shallots and 3 Tbs. of the oil in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce to a low simmer; cook the shallots until nicely softened (don’t let them brown), about 2 min. Remove from the heat and let cool completely (about 25 min. at room temperature; cool them more quickly in the refrigerator. if you like).

Heat the oven to 400°F. Rub the bottom and inside edge of a 7-1/2-inch tart pan with a removable bottom with the remaining 1/2 tsp. olive oil or spray with olive-oil spray. Put the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.

Slice the potatoes as thinly as possible (about 1/16 inch) with a chef’s knife. Tip: If the potato wobbles, slice a thin lengthwise sliver off the bottom to stabilize it; then continue slicing crosswise. Discard the ends. Put the potato slices in a mixing bowl, add the shallots and olive oil along with the herbs and toss well to thoroughly coat the potatoes (a small rubber spatula works well).

Cover the bottom of the tart pan with a layer of potato slices, overlapping them slightly. Start along the outside edge of the tart pan and, making slightly overlapping rings, move inward until the bottom is covered with one layer of potatoes. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt (a generous 1/8 tsp.) and then sprinkle about one-quarter of the Parmigiano and about one-quarter of the Gruyère over all. Arrange another layer of potatoes, season with salt, sprinkle with cheese, and repeat two more times, until you have four layers of potatoes. (This is a messy job; you’ll need a damp towel to wipe your hands between layers.) Top the last layer with more salt and any remaining cheese.

Bake the galette until the top is a reddish golden brown and the potatoes are tender in all places (a fork with thin tines should poke easily through all the layers), 45 to 50 min. The bottom will be crisp and the sides brown.

Let the galette cool for 10 or 15 min. in the pan. It will then be cool enough to handle but still plenty hot inside for serving. Have a cutting board nearby. Run a paring knife around the edge of the galette to loosen it and carefully remove the tart ring by gently pressing the tart bottom up. Slide a very thin spatula under and all around the bottom layer to free the galette from the tart bottom. Use the spatula to gently slide the galette onto a cutting board. Cut into four or six wedges, or as many as you like.

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Mexican Lasagna

Mexican Lasagna

AKA – How I used up a ton of leftover corn tortillas and some other stuff

Is this authentic? No. Is it gourmet? Um, definitely not. But it was pretty tasty and helped solve the problem of a leftover package of 18 corn tortillas hanging out in my fridge.


1 T oil (just enough to saute the onions)
1/3 cup diced onion
1 pepper – any kind (optional – only if you have it on hand)
a couple cloves of garlic (again, optional and only if you have on hand)
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb chorizo
1 packet taco seasoning (or, if you are so inclined, your own taco seasoning mix. I normally use America’s Test Kitchen recipe)
1/4 cup water
18 corn tortillas
1 can refried beans
1 jar salsa
1 package Mexican blend cheese (8 oz)
green onions (again, optional and only if you have on hand – they will go sprinkled over top before baking)


In medium saute pan, saute onion in oil. Maybe a pepper too if you have one. Got garlic? Ok, add in a clove or two if you want. Add ground beef and brown it. Add chorizo and brown it. Drain and remove fat from pan. Add back to pan with taco seasoning packet (I would have used my own blend, but was out of chili powder, so packet had to do).  Add some water – I added ¼ cup. You don’t want it too soupy, but not too dry either.

In a 9×13 baking dish, add a thin layer of salsa – just enough to coat the bottom so the tortillas won’t stick. Spread layer of beans on tortillas and lay tortilla on top of salsa (I cut off edges of the tortilla so they fit in the pan better). Continue with tortillas till you have a layer in the pan (I got 6 to fit in one layer). Add a layer of meat. Then a layer of cheese. Then a layer of salsa. Repeat. Final layer should be composed of tortilla (without beans) and a layer of cheese over top. If you have some green onions, sprinkle over top. 

Bake in 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. 

Other uses for leftover tortillas

Fry them up and use as chips. 
Flour tortillas– fry and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar

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